Monday, July 13, 2020

REMAKE AVENUE: The Glass Key, 1935 and 1942

Warning: this look at The Glass Key is not a spoiler-free zone.

Dashiell Hammett's novel The Glass Key was published in 1931 following its serialization in Black Mask. It is the story of political power, rampant gangsterism, love, and murder.

Paul Madvig is the boss of a mid-western city. From streetcleaner to the governor, he controls the elections, along with a sizeable amount of gambling and other enterprises. The police and the district attorney are under his sway. Rival gambling boss Shad O'Rory would like a larger slice of the action, but Madvig's machinery includes Ned Beaumont. The younger Beaumont is more than a respected and efficient right-hand man, he is considered a member of the Madvig's family, beloved by Paul's mother and his daughter. Beaumont is trusted beyond question. 

A midlife crisis strikes Madvig in the form of Janet Henry, the daughter of a senator currently seeking Madvig's election help. Madvig has fallen for the dame he sees as pure "class" while she barely masks her distaste for the sake of her father's ambition. Complicating matters, Taylor Henry, the ne'er-do-well son of the family has been seeing Madvig's daughter Opal. When young Henry winds up murdered, Paul Madvig comes under suspicion. 

Ned Beaumont believes solidly in Paul's innocence and sets about proving it. Ned suffers dreadfully at the hands of O'Rory's psychotic henchman Jeff in attempting to discover the true murderer and preserve Paul and his business. In the end, Beaumont takes care of the O'Rory problem and solves the murder before betraying his friend in the matter of Janet Henry.

Paramount brought The Glass Key to the screen in 1935. Kathryn Scola (Baby Face) and Kubec Glasmon (Union Depot) wrote the screenplay and Frank Tuttle (The Benson Murder Case) directed.

George Raft, Edward Arnold, Rosalind Culli

The casting is faultless with George Raft as "Ed" (not Ned) Beaumont, Edward Arnold as Paul Madvig, Claire Dodd as Janet Henry, Ray Milland as Taylor Henry, Charles Richmond as Senator Henry, and Emma Dunn as Ma Madvig. Rosalind Keith (Culli) is Opal Madvig, Paul's sister in the movie. Robert Gleckler is quite the smoothie as Shad O'Rory and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams is the demented Jeff.

The novel's convoluted plot twists, various sub-plots, and a myriad of characters including a newspaper publisher and his wife are pared down to its core befitting a snappy 80-minute run-time. The pace is kept up with the use of newspaper headlines and chatter of citizens to move the plot along. The movie maintains the emotional connection among the main characters.

Paul comes under suspicion for the murder of young Taylor Henry with O'Rory taking full advantage by manipulating the local press and hiding a supposed witness, Harry Tyler as Sloss, who is peeved at Paul for not coming through with a favour. Someone has begun a letter-writing campaign smearing Paul. Ed sets about finding evidence to exonerate his friend and boss. The first step is to get inside the O'Rory gang where things go awry.

Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, George Raft, Irving Bacon

The most memorable segment of the movie lifted from Hammett's novel involves Ed's confinement and brutal beating from O'Rory's deranged thug Jeff, and his exciting escape to bring back the information he has gleaned. The audience is treated to a brief bit by a young actress named Ann Sheridan as a nurse who flirts and fights with the hospitalized Ed.

Ann shows up in other Raft pictures of this time: Bolero, Rhumba, and Limehouse Blues. Five years later, Ann and George create a memorable couple in the exciting Warner Brothers' melodrama, They Drive by Night.

This first film version of Hammett's novel was and is a satisfying film adaptation even with its unexpected happy ending of Ed and Opal becoming a couple to the delight of Paul and his mother.

Paramount was quick to replicate the successful teaming of Alan Ladd with Veronica Lake in This Gun for Hire, 1942, and found the perfect property in another version of Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key. Jonathan Latimer (The Big Clock) wrote the screenplay with Stuart Heisler (I Died a Thousand Deaths) directing. The whole thing is given a glossy big-budget sheen by cinematographer Theodor Sparkuhl (Wake Island).

Again I must use the word faultless to describe the casting. Alan Ladd as Ed Beaumont, Brian Donlevy as Paul Madvig, Veronica Lake as Janet Henry, Moroni Olsen as Senator Henry, Richard Denning as Taylor Henry, and Bonita Granville as Opal Madvig. As in the earlier movie, Opal remains Paul's sister instead of a daughter, and they have kept the "Ed" for Ned Beaumont. In place of O'Rory, Madvig's rival is switched up to Nick Varna played by Joseph Calleia, and William Bendix as the unbalanced Jeff is even more creepy than "Big Boy" Williams.

Alan Ladd, William Bendix

Everyone suspects political boss Paul Madvig of the murder of Taylor Henry, the son of the reform candidate Senator Henry. Everyone, it seems, is working against Paul Madvig including Nick Varna, Opal Madvig, and Janet Henry, the sophisticated daughter of the Senator who puts up with Madvig for the sake of her father's political aspirations. A proactive young woman, Janet Henry is behind a letter-writing smear and she convinces Opal to turn on her big brother.

A vital witness to the murder, whether he is lying or not, is Sloss played by Dane Clark and Nick Varna has him. Ed pretends to have split with Paul in order to gain information on what Varna has and how he will use it. The plan backfires when Varna leaves Ed to Jeff's tender mercies. Wisely, screenwriter Latimer kept this scene from the novel and earlier adaption. Bendix is quite disturbing and viewers have an opportunity to compare him with Guinn Williams' take on the character. Frances Gifford is our flirty and feisty nurse this time around.

The recovered Ed is becoming more interested in Janet Henry despite his certain knowledge that she is using Paul. Donlevy plays Madvig as a more obvious "mug" than Arnold's characterization, and his unsuitability for the deb could not be more plain. However, Ed sticks by his friend because Paul has always been on the square.

Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd

A plot point from the novel lost in the earlier movie is back. It concerns a newspaper publisher beholden to Varna, his dissatisfied wife, and how Ed stirs that pot that results in suicide and media manipulation. Ed pushes a lie to force a confession and when the dust settles, decides to leave town because he can't get over Janet Henry. Janet Henry, who has been practically throwing herself at Ed, now leaves no doubt as to her feelings. After a few angsty moments, the couple leave town with smiles on their faces and Paul's good-natured blessing. I suppose it doesn't pay to promote a new screen team as a couple of selfish rats.

Dashiell Hammett, George Raft, Frank Tuttle

Hammett's writing style is addictive to the reader who looks for compelling and surprising characters, and an underworld that is barely beneath the surface of respectability. The 1935 feature has a rough-and-tumble feel and a thoroughly believable cast giving one hundred percent. The 1942 feature is a perfect showcase for Ladd and Lake with the lustrous glow of a top-notch Hollywood product. Both will entertain and fill that crime picture craving.


  1. If I had to pick which one to watch first, I’d probably go with the Raft one. Liked him in THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT when I didn’t know who he was.

    1. I think that would be the wise choice. I saw the 1942 version first, and a few times. The 1935 version never seemed to show up on television and I caught it a while ago online. Tidy, impressive filmmaking.

  2. HOLLY MCINTIRE is 79 today. As you know she is the daughter of JOHN MCINTIRE and JEANETTE NOLAN. She has been married to CHARLES WRIGHT since 1969-51 years!

    1. I enjoyed Holly very much as an actress on those rare occasions she followed in the family business.

  3. While the first version of the novel is solid and well done, nothing beats the off-kilter chemistry between Ladd and Bendix in the remake. Their scenes together are both funny and disturbing. The two were friends in real life, so I wonder if that contributed anything to it? They would also appear in The Blue Dahlia together, another good pairing in another good film.

    1. Folks rarely list Bendix and Ladd as one of the great screen teams, but it is true. Disturbing is the word for Jeff and it makes the 1942 version worth watching. Being friends, there would be a lot of trust that would inform their working relationship.

      You reminded me Two Years Before the Mast and The Deep Six, two other fine films quite different from the noir world.

  4. CAROL LEE LADD, the stepdaughter of ALAN LADD, was briefly married to RICHARD ANDERSON. They were married from Jan. 1955 to Apr. 1956. Carol was born CAROL LEE STUART, the daughter of NICK STUART and SUE CAROL. Richard was a good actor and a frequent guest star on THE BIG VALLEY.

    1. My first thought when I hear "Richard Anderson" is Lt. Drumm on Perry Mason. He was in every show I watched growing up, and some nice movie roles as well.

  5. I haven't seen the first, but quite enjoy the second one with Ladd and Lake. In addition to the photogenic leads, I agree that William Bendix is very good. Here's a Perry Mason connection for you: Dane Clark played Tragg on The New Perry Mason with Monte Markham!

  6. RICHARD ANDERSON was in the movie THE LONG HOT SUMMER as ALAN STEWART. His mother was played by the delightful MABEL ALBERTSON. ANGELA LANSBURY was in the movie as the lady friend of WILL VARNER(ORSON WELLES). Later Richard guest-starred on MURDER, SHE WROTE which starred Angela. He was in the two-part episode that starred JEAN SIMMONS. It also had SHELLEY FABARES as a guest star. Angela, Jean and Shelley-three lovely actresses!

    1. Angela and Jean were both Emmy-nominated for Mirror Mirror on the Wall. The entire cast was fine but I thought Daniel McDonald was outstanding.

  7. Wow, I had no idea that there was a 1935 version of the story. I must watch it soon, as you described it with enthusiasm. George Raft was a fine actor who is sadly overlooked today.



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